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Posts for January, 2013

The Discussion That Wasn’t

A commentary

Jim Burroway

January 8th, 2013

It’s official. Yesterday, President Barack Obama formally nominated former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) for Secretary of Defense. Obama’s announcement recounted Hagel’s qualifications: an enlisted Purple Heart veteran of the Vietnam War, Veterans Administration deputy administrator during the Reagan Administration, and serving on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Intelligence Committee in the Senate. He voted for the Iraq War, but became a vocal critic as the war’s execution was bungled by the Bush administration, something that people who have actually served in combat tend to do, much to the annoyance to those who convinced themselves they knew what they were doing. After retiring in 2009, he became chair of Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board, a move which the GOP sees as traitorous on par with Tokyo Rose. I don’t see how anyone can say he’s unfit to be Defense Secretary. They may disagree with him on policy — or Obama’s policies, more specifically — but we had an entire election where we got to debate those policies and Obama won. So here we are.

But there is that thing about Hagel’s anti-gay record, and it’s not a small thing. A full recap is in order, and this time I want to go over the full context rather than relying on drive-by pull-quotes. Let’s start at the beginning.

Hagel vs. Hormel, 1998
Fourteen years ago, President Bill Clinton nominated James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg. Senate Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) immediately set about blocking his nomination. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) was just one of many Senators on both sides of the aisle to express their concern for the appointment. Those expressions ranged from mild to wild, with Hagel staking out the wilder side. On July 3, 1998, Hagel expressed his concern to the Omaha World-Herald this way:

Ambassadorial posts are sensitive, Hagel explained.

“They are representing America,” he said. “They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay — openly aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel — to do an effective job.”

Hagel noted a documentary, filmed with money Hormel donated, that showed teachers how they could teach children about homosexuality. He said he had seen another video clip that showed Hormel at what Hagel called an anti-Catholic event in San Francisco, featuring the “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence,” a group of male drag queens.

“It is very clear on this tape that he’s laughing and enjoying the antics of an anti-Cathloic gay group in this gay parade,” Hagel said. “I think it’s wise for the president not to go forward with this nomination.”

Over the years Hormel, a former dean of the Chicago Law School, has given money to civil-rights groups, colleges, symphonies, and to groups fighting autism, breast cancer and AIDS. Hormel listed the contributions in a letter to a supporter, Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore. In the letter, Hormel said he provided “minor” support for the teacher documentary and had no control over its content.

The Log Cabin Republicans, a gay group, says the videotape from the San Francisco event resulted when men dressed as nuns walked past a broadcast booth where Hormel, a well-known civic leader in the city, was giving an interview to a local reporter.

Hormel’s homosexuality is not the problem, say Hagel and other opponents of the nomination. It’s his openness about being gay and his advocacy of some causes, they say.

Hagel, meanwhile, said a homosexual should not necessarily be disqualified from all ambassadorships.

His approach to nominees, he said, has been to examine the person’s qualifications first. The United States has had gay ambassadors in the past and gays in the military, who have done well by quietly adopting the Pentagon’s current “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude.

Hormel, however, has gone beyond that, Hagel said.

He “very aggressively told the world of his gayness and the funding and all the things he’s been involved in. I think you do go beyond common sense there, and reason and a certain amount of decorum,” Hagel said.

“If you send an ambassador abroad with a cloud of controversy hanging over him, then I think it’s unfair to our country, it’s unfair to the host country and it’s unfair to the ambassador because the effectiveness of that individual is going to be seriously curtailed. That’s just a fact of life. And I believe Hormel’s situation is one of those.”

It’s important to remember the context in 1998, when any kind of pro-gay gesture was fodder for anti-gay prejudice, whether it was attending a Pride parade — regardless of whether drag queens and Sisters were there or not — or suggesting that a discussion about the issues of LGBT youth. Fourteen years ago, those were areas that even our supporters feared to tread, and more often than not, they would inoculate themselves by bemoaning Pride parades and assuring a jittery public that nobody would come within a thousand miles of their children with material that might suggest that having two moms or experiencing “funny” feelings might be something to talk about.

I say that not to excuse or exonerate Hagel. Instead, it goes to show how powerful a cudgel Hagel wielded when he made those remarks to the World-Herald. That was in 1998, and Hagel would spend the next ten years in the Senate opposing nearly every pro-gay measure, racking up a very nearly perfect zero score on the Human Rights Campaign’s congressional scorecard. There were two exceptions: Hagel supported reauthorization of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which included an end to Jesse Helms’s cherished AIDS travel ban. That nudged his HRC score off of zero for 2007-2008, even though I’m unclear about whether he voted for it because of, despite, or with indifference to the lifting of the travel ban. The second exception was a bit smaller: He voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004, but didn’t cast a vote in 2006. Soon after, he voiced his opposition to the FMA, earning this rebuke from Focus On the Family.

But before we continue, it is important to note a few more things about Hagel’s term as Senator. LGBT issues aside (and his record in that area was deplorable), Hagel had earned a reputation as a moderate in the Senate. Those positions in today’s GOP would have made him a traitor, but just ten short years ago, when Hagel criticized the war in Iraq and the Bush Administration’s “war on terrorism” rhetoric as needlessly alarmist, and criticized the prison on Guantanamo as the reason the U.S. was “losing the image war around the world,” questioning things that were going wrong wasn’t yet a crime against nature. He voted against “No Child Left Behind”, but supported President Bush with the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, which would have provided a pathway to residency and citizenship for undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for five years. During Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) 2008 run for president, he floated Hagel’s name as someone who would make a good Secretary of State for a McCain Administration.

Hagel v. Hormel, 2012
Since Hagel’s retirement on January 3, 2009, he has stayed mostly out of the limelight, only to re-emerge over the past year or so. In 2011, he said that there was the Defense Department is “bloated”, and said that diplomats should, you know, engage in diplomacy, with Iran and Hamas. He now is being criticized for having said things like, “I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator” — a statement that wasn’t nearly as controversial just a few short years ago in the GOP as it is today. He also, inelegantly, said that the “Jewish” lobby has too much influence. If he had said “Israeli lobby” instead, he would have been more accurate, but I don’t think it would have shielded him from accusations of being an anti-Semite since the dominant GOP trend now is to show what a strong “friend of Israel” you are by never contradicting Netanyahu on anything. In 2012, he endorsed Democrat Bob Kerrey in the race for an open U.S. Senate seat in Nebraska, and you just know that didn’t go over very well with fellow Republicans either.

So when rumors began to circulate that President Barack Obama was thinking about nominating Hagel for Defense Secretary, the knives were already out. Meanwhile, the LGBT community remembered Hagel’s comments to the Omaha World-Herald in 1998, a rediscovery which reopened a lot of old wounds in the LGBT community. HRC’s Chad Griffin said on December 20, “Senator Hagel’s unacceptable comments about gay people, coupled with his consistent anti-LGBT record in Congress, raise serious questions about where he stands on LGBT equality today.” Hagel moved quickly to try to put out that fire with this short statement to Politico on December 21:

My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive. They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights. I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.”

Naturally, given the timing and brevity of Hagel’s statement, Hormel’s initial reaction was negative:

“I have not received an apology,” Hormel, who is a major figure in Democratic politics, told me. “I thought this so-called apology, which I haven’t received, but which was made public, had the air of being a defensive move on his part.” Hormel added that the apology appeared to have been given “only in service of his attempt to get the nomination.”

But a few hours later, after Hormel had a chance to think it over, he issued this statement accepting Hagel’s apology and supporting his nomination:

Senator Hagel’s apology is significant–I can’t remember a time when a potential presidential nominee apologized for anything. While the timing appears self-serving, the words themselves are unequivocal–they are a clear apology. Since 1998, fourteen years have passed, and public attitudes have shifted–perhaps Senator Hagel has progressed with the times, too. His action affords new stature to the LGBT constituency, whose members still are treated as second class citizens in innumerable ways. Senator Hagel stated in his remarks that he was willing to support open military service and LGBT military families. If that is a commitment to treat LGBT service members and their families like everybody else, I would support his nomination.

As Hormel says, there has been a huge shift in public opinion since 1998. Actually, you don’t have to go back that far to see a strong shift. You only have to go back to 2008, the year that Hagel voted to rescind the HIV travel ban but voiced support for DADT, and the year that he retired from the Senate. That same year, Californians voted 52.2% to 47.8% to strip gays and lesbians of their right to marry. Voters in Arizona and Florida also enshrined discrimination into their state constitutions. In 2009, Maine voters rejected a bill granting same-sex marriage by 52.9% to 47.1%.

But three short years later, in 2012, Maine voters reversed themselves on the same question by very nearly the same margin, 52.7% to 47.3%. Voters in Washington and Maryland — with substantial support even from GOP voters — also approved marriage equality bills, and Minnesota voters rejected an attempt to deface their constitution with discrimination. In that same short time span, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed with bipartisan support; the New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire legislatures enacted marriage equality, also with bipartisan support; former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), who had authored the “Defense of Marriage Act,” came out for DOMA’s repeal; and two current GOP representatives are cosponsoring a bill to do just that.

That represents a huge sea change in LGBT politics in just four years. Of course, not all Republicans are participating in that change. Among elected officials and party activists, the vast majority are not, as evidenced by what was perhaps the GOP’s most overtly homophobic platform in history. But taken together, that represents an extraordinarily wide spectrum within the Republican Party, with people like Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL, and a vice chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus) on one end and Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX, retrograde) on the other. It’s safe to say that Hagel falls somewhere within that very wide spectrum, but exactly where he is we don’t know.

Unwarranted Attacks
And the way things are shaping up, few of our so-called “advocates” are interested in finding out. I can’t think of another context in which a politician who had previously had a pretty solid anti-gay voting record and who had, just a few short years later, voiced support LGBT Americans’ civil rights — and those were his words — only to have everyone evaluate that transformation not in terms of what it means for LGBT Americans, but strictly through the lens of unrelated politics. And in this case, it seems to be politics related to whether Israel or America determines American foreign policy. At least that’s how Log Cabin Republicans appear to have framed the issue. When rumors first began circulating that Hagel was being considered for Defense Secretary, L. Clarke Cooper responded on December 14:

Speaking for himself and not for LCR, Cooper wrote in an email, “I recall working with Senator Chuck Hagel and his staff during the Bush administration and he was certainly not shy about expressing his criticisms. But despite his criticisms, Hagel voted with us most of the time and there was no question he was committed to advancing America’s interests abroad. As for his nomination to be secretary of defense, it is well worth noting that Senator Hagel is a combat veteran who has hands-on experience in the field. The battlefield is not just theory for him.”

The timeline here is important because it helps to provide context. Cooper voiced this support for Hagel after reports were circulating about his 1998 comments to the Omaha World-Herald and before Hagel apologized for those comments. Which means that Cooper was defending Hagel despite Hagel’s comments from 1998.

LCR’s mission, according to its own web page, is “to build a stronger, more inclusive Republican Party” while adhering to what LCR calls the party’s “core values.” And so when a previously anti-gay politician utters words which indicate a shift away from exclusion towards inclusion, one might think that an organization which claims to promote inclusion would want to encourage that. You know, something like this:

Hey, we’re glad you came around. We’re glad you apologized. It’s a really good start, but we’d like to know more. What changed? Why did you change? And that thing you said, about your commitment to our civil rights. This is the first time you’ve said anything like that. Can you tell us more? Which of our civil rights are you committed to? And that thing about LGBT military families: that’s an important issue that’s still unresolved. Thanks for noticing. What issues to you think you can resolve for them? Where do we go from here?

LCR’s Hagel Ad in The New York Times, December 27, 2012. (Click to enlarge.)

There are so many things LCR could have done, and it appeared that based on what Cooper said before Hagel apologized, LCR was in the perfect position to carry out what it claims to be its mission. Bizarrely, Log Cabin Republicans did exactly the opposite. After Hagel issued his apology, Log Cabin Republicans placed an expensive, full-page ad in the December 27 edition of the New York Times quoting from Hagel’s 1998 comments — as though his more recent statement had never been uttered — and tied their opposition to Hagel to Israel and Iran. And as icing on the cake, they called the man who, for the first time in his career recognized “LGBT Americans’ civil rights” by using those very words, “Wrong on Gay Rights.”

Bizarre, I know. But then, this is the same organization who endorsed a presidential candidate who signed on to the National Organization for Marriage’s five-point plan to destroy LGBT Americans’ civil rights. What can I say but “Exclusion wins!”

Oh, and Israel! Iran! Wherever that came from.

LCR’s Hagel Ad in The Washington Post, January 7, 2013. (Click to enlarge.)

LCR doubled down yesterday with another expensive full-page ad in the Washington Post. This time, they made it all about the gays, leaving the Middle East out of it. But of course, in the context of the greater GOP opposition, LCR has already shown their hand with The Times ad. In this ad, they claim to examine Hagel’s anti-gay record — except, of course, they left out his 2006 change of heart on the FMA because that inconvenient fact interrupts their narrative. (If you recall, that would be the very same position on FMA that LCR explicitly cited when they endorsed McCain for president in 2008.) And in a particularly juvenile move, LCR decided to acknowledge Hagel’s brief apology by crossing their arms, stomping their feet and shrieking “Too little, too late“. Seriously. That’s the concluding line they stamped across the bottom of their ad. It’s a fine retort for a first-grader, but not from mature adults who claim that they want to actually accomplish something.

If this is how LCR slams people who make a move towards inclusion while rewarding presidential candidates who really do want to turn back the clock on our civil rights, then they’ve pretty much sent the message to everyone in the GOP that they may as well stay right where they were in 1998.

Unearned Embraces
If LCR represents one cynical extreme with its irrational reaction to Hagel’s statements, then thank goodness we still have the Human Rights Campaign around to remind us about its well-earned reputation for being too cozy with Democratic politics.

HRC’s mission, according to their web page, is “to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.” And so when a previously anti-gay politician utters words which indicate a tentative shift away from discrimination and towards fairness and equality, one might think that an organization which claims to promote those values might want to seize the initiative and try to elicit some kind of a follow-up to Hagel’s three sentence statement. Obviously Hagel’s apology raises far more questions than it answers. If that’s all he has to say on the subject, than I don’t think anyone with a shred of self-respect would accept it as a final word. After all, contrary to Hagel’s assurances LGBT Americans do have plenty of good reasons to question Hagel’s commitment to their civil rights. Those reasons can be found in his own record.

And so, you might think that HRC, given their mission, might want to say something to encourage Hagel to clarify what he meant. Something along the lines of–

Hey, we’re glad you came around. We’re glad you apologized. It’s a really good start, but we’d like to know more. What changed? Why did you change? And that thing you said, about your commitment to our civil rights. This is the first time you’ve said anything like that. Can you tell us more? Which of our civil rights are you committed to? And that thing about LGBT military families: that’s an important issue that’s still unresolved. Thanks for noticing. What issues to you think you can resolve for them? Where do we go from here?

You know, the same kinds of questions that LCR could have raised.

But no. The ink was barely dry on Hagel’s apology when we got this instead:

Senator Hagel’s apology and his statement of support for LGBT equality is appreciated and shows just how far as a country we have come when a conservative former Senator from Nebraska can have a change of heart on LGBT issues,” HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “Our community continues to add allies to our ranks and we’re proud that Senator Hagel is one of them.”

Nothing more to talk about here. Forget everything you remembered about him. He’s our pal now, and there’s no need to worry our pretty little heads over him anymore.

True, it’s much better than kicking Hagel to the curb. But it’s a far cry from anything that would remotely resemble clarity, let alone accountability. HRC has declared the subject closed and there’s nothing more to talk about.

There is a silver lining though: at least they didn’t spend a couple hundred grand on that message.

Where Do We Go From Here?
But the conversation isn’t over. It’s barely even started. And so let me close with two statement which, I think, strike the right balance and invites Hagel to expand on his all-too-brief statement. And of all places, the first one comes from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, an organization that is often criticized for diluting their efforts across a wide array of non-LGBT issues. In 2012, the NGLTF even went so far as to claim “synergy” between same-sex marriage and an attempt to add casino gambling in Maryland. But on the Hagel nomination, the NGLTF gets it mostly right:

“We continue to express our concerns about the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense due to his poor track record on LGBT equality and reproductive rights. Cabinet choices set the tone for an administration and it is critical that those members support fairness, women’s health and the belief in a level playing field for all. Though Chuck Hagel has recently apologized for past anti-gay remarks, we expect him to fully explain his views during the confirmation process and what steps he intends to take as defense secretary to demonstrate his support for LGBT members of the military and their families. We recognize that people do evolve on these issues and we hold out hope that, if confirmed, Hagel will meet the bar set by other cabinet secretaries and the administration when it comes to ensuring fairness for all LGBT military families and for women in the military.”

And the second one comes from Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), who said this to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell:

“I do not know Chuck Hagel…I do want to speak with him, particularly about his comments 14 years ago, to see if his apology is sincere and sufficient. I want to hear how he’s evolved on this issue in the the last 14 years because the significance to the post to which he’s been nominated is the respect for now openly gay members of the military who because of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell can serve openly and we need to see that implemented successfully…”

Both statements strike a good balance, neither damning Hagel as irredeemable nor embracing him as though he has nothing left to answer for. Because the fact remains that he may yet become a good ally, and we’d be foolish to slam the door on that possibility. But we’d be equally foolish to pretend that our legitimate doubts about his commitment to our civil rights either don’t exist or don’t matter.

Barney Frank Calls LCR “Uncle Toms”; LGBT Groups Disavow Charge

Jim Burroway

September 6th, 2012

Several leaders of LGBT organizations are distancing themselves from comments by Rep. Barny Frank (D-MA) that the Log Cabin Republicans have taken “Uncle Tom” as their role model. Frank first made those comments yesterday during an interview with Sirious/XM OutQ’s Michelangelo Signorile:

Frankly I’ve been appalled to see the Log Cabin club, in the face of this worse and worse record on public policy by Republicans on our issues,” Frank said. “Mr. Cooper said, ‘Well at least they’re not saying bad things about us.’ That’s just extraordinary. Again, 30 years ago when we were emerging from the vice of prejudice, I understood that. But no, we shouldn’t be accepting a kind of second class citizenship, [and saying], ‘You can treat us badly as long you don’t yell at us.’”

“They’re accepted on [the GOP’s] terms,” he continued. “They’re willing to be accepted with no rights — no right to marry, no right to serve in the military, no right to be protected against hate crimes, no right to be protected in employment. I’ll be honest: For 20 years now I’ve heard how the Log Cabins are going to make Republicans better, but they’ve only gotten worse. I now understand why they call themselves Log Cabin: their role model is Uncle Tom.”

Buzfeed’s Chris Geidner reports that Frank repeated that comparison to the Democratic National Convention’s LGBT Caucus toda, where he reportedly received a mixed reaction from the crowd. Geidner quotes HRC’s Chad Griffin: “That’s certainly not my perspective. The Log Cabin Republicans are good people doing good work.” He added: “We need all fair-minded Americans to rally to the side of equality, and that most definitely includes Republicans. They provide a voice within the Republican Party that’s important.”

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Rea Carey and Stonewall Democrats’ Jerame Davis also backed away from Franks comments, saying that they don’t reflect the positions of their organizations. But Davis added, “The truth is that they do play a certain role of kowtowing to the Republican Party in a way that borders on inappropriate itself.”

LCR responded via a press release:

“As far as Log Cabin Republicans are concerned, it’s a badge of honor to be attacked by a partisan hack like Barney Frank,” said Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper. “We understand that Barney has earned his protected place within the Democrat Party by being their attack dog on gay rights issues, demonizing Republicans and undermining efforts at bipartisanship that would actually improve LGBT Americans lives. We expect this kind of bile from Barney, especially when it plays into the Obama campaign’s efforts to divide, distract and deceive the American people.”

Cooper continues, “Frank calls us ‘Uncle Toms’ and pretends that Log Cabin hasn’t been on the front lines of the fight for equality. The truth is, by speaking conservative to conservative about gay rights, Log Cabin Republicans are doing some of the hardest work in the movement, work that liberals like Barney are unwilling to do and couldn’t do if they tried.”

Maine’s “Yes” Side Claims LGBT Groups Contributed $5 Million to Defeat Question 1

Jim Burroway

October 25th, 2009

This is amazing. Stand for Marriage Maine’s web page says this:

Your support will help us stand up to the vast network of wealthy homosexuals with seemingly unlimited resources from places like Hollywood, New York and Massachusetts. Washington, D.C.’s largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization has already pledged to spend as much as $5 million to try to defeat us.

Five million dollars from the Human Rights Campaign? Let’s review. According to campaign filings by both sides, Protect Maine Equality’s three largest donors are:

  • Portland resident Donald Sussman, $500,000.
  • The Human Rights Campaign, $220,000.
  • The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, $140,000.

These three contributions altogether make up only 22% of Protect Maine Equality’s total budget. The rest has come from ordinary contributors like you.

Now let’s look at Stand for Marriage Maine. Their top three contributors are:

  • National Organization for Marriage: $1.5 million.
  • Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland: $550,000.
  • Focus On the Family: $114,500.

Altogether, these three organizations alone have provided 83% of Stand for Marriage Maine’s total budget.

Who’s trying to buy an election while pulling the wool over the eyes of Maine voters?

NOM Doubles Its Maine War Chest, Claims Special Rights

Jim Burroway

October 24th, 2009

The Bangor Daily News reports that Stand for Marriage Maine, the group pushing to strip LGBT Mainers of their right to marry, has almost doubled its war chest in the past three weeks. They raised $1.4 million in October, bringing their total amount raised to $2.6 million, according to reports filed Friday with the Maine Ethics Commission. Guess where the money came from:

But $1.1 million of the $1.4 million raised by Stand for Marriage Maine in October came from a single source: the National Organization for Marriage. In fact, the Washington, D.C., organization has bankrolled more than 60 percent of the campaign to ban same-sex marriages in Maine.

The No on 1 campaign, meanwhile, claims to have received contributions from more than 22,000 donors, compared to slightly more than 700 donors to the opposing camp.

This brings NOM’s total investment to $1.5 million, according to the Associated Press. By my calculations, that’s actually 58% of the total. But still, that’s pretty amazing. One out-of-state special interest group is trying to purchase an election, lock, stock and barrel.  The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland has contributed a total of $550,000 to the “yes” campaign. Another $114,500 came from Focus On the Family. Together, these three groups alone account for 83% of Stand for Marriage Maine’s total budget.

And yet, despite the fact that the National Organization for Marriage is paying the lion’s share of the bill, they are in court demanding that they be held above Maine’s financial disclosure laws:

NOM’s financial role in the Maine campaign will be discussed in federal court in Portland on Monday when a judge hears arguments in a complaint the group filed against the state.

Earlier this month, the Maine Ethics Commission voted 3-2 to investigate whether NOM was skirting campaign finance laws in order to avoid disclosing the identities of contributors. A complaint against NOM alleges the organization, which played a key role in overturning California’s gay marriage law last November, funnels money to Stand for Marriage Maine while promising donors confidentiality.

NOM responded earlier this week by challenging the constitutionality of Maine’s law requiring “ballot question committees” to file detailed campaign finance reports.

Protect Maine EqualityMeanwhile, campaign finance reports also show that Protect Maine Equality has raised more than $4 million so far. This includes $1.4 million raised in October, matching Stand for Marriage Maine’s fundraising from the same period. While the nearly 80% of the Yes side’s money during that period came from NOM, most of Protect Maine Equality’s fundraising came from individual donors during the same period.

Protect Maine Equality also reports some large donors, but nothing like the outright attempted purchase of an entire campaign by NOM. According to the Bangor Daily News, Portland resident Donald Sussman has contributed more than $500,000. The Human Rights Campaign kicked in $220,000 in donations and in-kind goods and services, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has contributed about $140,000 in funds, goods, and services.

Altogether, these three major donors make up only 22% of Protect Maine Equality’s total take. The rest, as they say, comes from people like you. Please donate today.

Reactions To Obama Administration’s Defense of DOMA

Jim Burroway

June 12th, 2009

Reactions to news that the Obama administration is defending the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” against a constitutional challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court are pouring in fast and furious. We go first to the Human Rights Campaign:

[HRC President Joe Solmonese said,] “Mr. President, you have called DOMA ‘abhorrent’ and pledged to be a fierce advocate for our community.  As we approach the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, it is time for you to use your leadership to translate these principles into meaningful action.”

HRC also has grave concerns about the arguments that the Administration put forth in this case, arguments that simply do not reflect the experiences that LGBT people face or the contributions that they make. The Administration’s brief claims that DOMA is a valid exercise of Congress’s power, is consistent with Equal Protection or Due Process principles, and does not impinge upon rights that are recognized as fundamental.  The brief further claims that DOMA is a “neutral” federal position on same-sex marriages, and permits the states to determine on their own whether to recognize same-sex marriages. The most alarming argument, grounded neither in fact nor in law, reads as follows:

[DOMA amounts to] a cautious policy of federal neutrality towards a new form of marriage. DOMA maintains federal policies that have long sought to promote the traditional and uniformly-recognized form of marriage, recognizes the right of each State to expand the traditional definition if it so chooses, but declines to obligate federal taxpayers in other States to subsidize a form of marriage that their own states do not recognize.

“Same-sex couples and their families are not seeking subsidies,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese.  “We pay taxes equally, contribute to our communities equally, support each other equally, pay equally into Social Security, and participate equally in our democracy.  Equal protection is not a handout.  It is our right as citizens,” he said.

From Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund:

“DOMA is and has always been an immoral attack on same-sex couples, our families and our fundamental humanity. This law has only served to discriminate against Americans and belittle our nation’s heralded values embracing freedom, fairness and justice. The Task Force Action Fund demands President Obama and Congress immediately repeal this hateful law, which has left a moral scar on our nation and its worthy pursuit of equal justice for all.

“Unfortunately, the malicious and outrageous arguments and language used in the Department of Justice’s marriage brief is only serving to inflame and malign the humanity of same-sex couples and our families. This is unacceptable.

“This ugly chapter in our nation’s history must come to an end now with the repeal of DOMA.”

From Executive Director Geoff Kors of Equality California:

We are outraged the Obama Administration filed a brief defending the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act — a law Obama promised to repeal when running for President. It is unacceptable that he is defending DOMA instead of supporting its repeal as unconstitutional. And the justification that Congress has the right to deny one minority equal benefits as a way to save money is truly offensive. We not only call on President Obama to order the Justice Department to file a supplemental brief reversing its position and instead urging the repeal of DOMA, but we also demand the president demonstrates that he is the ‘fierce’ advocate he once claimed to be by publicly calling for the end to all discrimination against LGBT Americans — including the immediate repeal of this law so same-sex couples legally married in their home state receive the same federal benefits and protections as opposite-sex couples

From a broad coalition of advocacy groups (no link yet):

We are very surprised and deeply disappointed in the manner in which the Obama administration has defended the so-called Defense of Marriage Act against Smelt v. United States, a lawsuit brought in federal court in California by a married same-sex couple asking the federal government to treat them equally with respect to federal protections and benefits. The administration is using many of the same flawed legal arguments that the Bush administration used. These arguments rightly have been rejected by several state supreme courts as legally unsound and obviously discriminatory.

We disagree with many of the administration’s arguments, for example that DOMA is a valid exercise of Congress’s power, is consistent with Equal Protection or Due Process principles, and does not impinge upon rights that are recognized as fundamental.

We are also extremely disturbed by a new and nonsensical argument the administration has advanced suggesting that the federal government needs to be “neutral” with regard to its treatment of married same-sex couples in order to ensure that federal tax money collected from across the country not be used to assist same-sex couples duly married by their home states. There is nothing “neutral” about the federal government’s discriminatory denial of fair treatment to married same-sex couples: DOMA wrongly bars the federal government from providing any of the over one thousand federal protections to the many thousands of couples who marry in six states. This notion of “neutrality” ignores the fact that while married same-sex couples pay their full share of income and social security taxes, they are prevented by DOMA from receiving the corresponding same benefits that married heterosexual taxpayers receive. It is the married same-sex couples, not heterosexuals in other parts of the country, who are financially and personally damaged in significant ways by DOMA. For the Obama administration to suggest otherwise simply departs from both mathematical and legal reality.

When President Obama was courting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender voters, he said that he believed that DOMA should be repealed. We ask him to live up to his emphatic campaign promises, to stop making false and damaging legal arguments, and immediately to introduce a bill to repeal DOMA and ensure that every married couple in America has the same access to federal protections.

Signed:
American Civil Liberties Union
Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders
Human Rights Campaign
Lambda Legal
National Center for Lesbian Rights
National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce

And from PFLAG:

Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) National expressed deep disappointment and strong opposition to the Department of Justice’s recent arguments regarding the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the dismissal of a lawsuit filed on behalf of a gay couple who married in California.

“Since DOMA’s enactment in 1996, PFLAG has vocally opposed this blatant and malicious law, which enables legal discrimination against our gay and lesbian loved ones and denies them the right to protect their families and receive equal treatment under the law,” said Jody M. Huckaby, executive director of PFLAG. “We are deeply offended by the DOJ’s recent arguments and alarmed by the hurtful language that further denigrates our families and friends.”

“PFLAG continues to urge President Obama to explore options to repeal this immoral and unethical law that leaves our families and friends unprotected and unequal. DOMA hurts our families and friends by denying them more than 1,100 federal benefits legally recognized married couples currently receive from the federal government. When families are hurt, communities are weakened and all of America suffers. In the name of basic equality and fairness, we ask that the Administration fulfill its commitment to advancing equality for LGBT Americans by acting immediately to overturn this law,” Huckaby concluded.

Are Lawsuits The Best Way To Go?

Jim Burroway

May 27th, 2009

I welcomed conservative Attorney Theodore Olson’s eagerness to try to overturn Prop 8 in federal court. But when I wrote that, I only addressed the fact that even conservatives are coming around to the idea that discrimination is fundamentally un-American.

What I didn’t address was the wisdom of trying to bring about change in the courts, especially when this particular tactic has almost no chance for success. I don’t think it’s wise to proceed in the courts. Eight prominent LGBT organizations agree:

In response to the California Supreme Court decision allowing Prop 8 to stand, four LGBT legal organizations and five other leading national LGBT groups are reminding the LGBT community that ill-timed lawsuits could set the fight for marriage back. The groups released a new publication, “Why the ballot box and not the courts should be the next step on marriage in California” (PDF: 70KB/3 pages). This publication discourages people from bringing premature lawsuits based on the federal Constitution because, without more groundwork, the U.S. Supreme Court likely is not yet ready to rule that same-sex couples cannot be barred from marriage. The groups also revised “Make Change, Not Lawsuits” (PDF: 105KB/7 pages). which was released after the California Supreme Court decision ending the ban on marriage for same-sex couples in California. This publication encourages couples who have legally married to ask friends, neighbors and institutions to honor their marriages, but discourages people from bringing lawsuits. [Hyperlinks added]

I tend to agree. The problem though is this: the LGBT movement has never been a monolith. Unlike the caricature painted by our opponents, there really has never been a behind-the-scenes entity to dictate a coordinated strategy. Advancement has been a messy process, at the ballot box, in the legislatures and in the courts.

But the whole reason that we have courts is they are the ones charged with dispensing justice for those with legitimate grievances. And when someone has a legitimate grievance, it’s hard to argue that they should not exercise their constitutional right to their day in court. This true whether that grievance is against negligent employer operating an unsafe work environment, a drunk driver whose recklessness resulted in the death of a loved one, or a state with discriminatory laws.

But I do think that the LGBT advocacy groups’ advice is what we need to heed now (PDF: 70KB/3 pages):

Rather than filing premature lawsuits, we need to talk to our friends, family and neighbors, and help them understand why denial of the freedom to marry is wrong. We need to build a vigorous, aggressive campaign to overturn Prop 8 and restore the freedom to marry in California. This is the moment to convince California and America that we should have the freedom to marry.

I hope Mr. Olson will consider deploying his considerable legal talents to help us win in other ways.

If You’re Attending The Creating Change Conference This Weekend

Daniel Gonzales

January 29th, 2009

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force “Creating Change” conference is being held in Denver this weekend. Fellow ex-gay survivor Christine Bakke and I will be giving a 90 minute seminar on the ex-gay survivor movement this Saturday at 3pm. Most seminars are on Friday or Saturday and discounted registration for a single day is available. Download a PDF of the full schedule of events here.

For-Profit Fundraisers Rip Off Non-Profits and their Donors

Jim Burroway

July 6th, 2008

Private, for-profit companies which contract their services to non-profit organizations for fundraising have become a major rip-off, according to the Los Angeles Times this morning.

For-profit campaigns, which often employ telemarketing, mass mailings or one-time events, account for a small fraction of $223 billion in charitable giving each year in the United States. But they collect significant sums and help shape public perceptions of charities. Pairing computer-controlled dialing systems with low-wage workers, such firms can reach a large number of people in a short time.

But after these companies bills are paid, what’s left over? Often nothing. And yet the fundraising business is growing. Since 2000, the number of campaigns and amounts raised by for-profit firms has risen by about two-thirds in California alone.

To see how did your favorite LGBT charity do in California, here’s the list. GLAAD did the best, keeping a little over 70¢ of every dollar collected. Lambda Legal was very close behind at nearly 68¢. The Gay and Lesbian and Straight Education Network appears on the list twice, once under its full name, and once again under its initials. Combined, the two entities kept a little more than 59¢ of every dollar earned. Losers include the Horizon Foundation (8.6¢ of every dollar) and NGLTF (13.5¢ of every dollar, when combined with the NGLTF Foundation).

There is one caveat to these figures — they do not include fundraising which is conducted in-house.

Gay Groups Ask for Leniency in Lawrence King Murder

Jim Burroway

April 15th, 2008

Lawrence KingA coalition of 27 LGBT activist organizations is urging the Ventura County, California District Attorney to charge 14-year old Brandon McInerney, Lawrence King’s murderer, as a juvenile. McInerney shot King, 15, point blank in the head on February 12th at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard, California. With hate crime enhancements, McInerney faces up to 27 years in prison if he is charged as an adult. But citing an overall “climate of intolerance and fear about sexual orientation and expression,” the coalition feels that prosecuting McInerney as an adult would “compound this tragedy with another wrong.”

The press release, which is not yet available online, reads:

A coalition of 27 groups fighting for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights today is urging Ventura County prosecutors to try 14-year-old Brandon McInerney in juvenile court, and not as an adult. McInerney has been charged as an adult in the February 12 murder of his E.O. Green Middle School classmate, 15-year-old Lawrence King. Students say McInerney targeted King because the victim was openly gay and because he wore women’s jewellery and makeup.

LGBT civil rights organizations, including Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Transgender Law Center, have delivered a short statement to Ventura County District Attorney Gregory D. Totten, calling on him to try McInerney as a juvenile.

“We are saddened and outraged by the murder of junior high school student Lawrence King,” the statement reads. “At the same time, we call on prosecutors not to compound this tragedy with another wrong “we call on them to treat the suspect as a juvenile, not as an adult.

“The facts in this matter seem clear: one boy killed another in a climate of intolerance and fear about sexual orientation and gender expression. The alleged perpetrator, who turned 14 years old less than three weeks before the shooting, should be held accountable for his actions. But we support the principles underlying our juvenile justice system that treat children differently than adults and provide greater hope and opportunity for rehabilitation. In addition, public safety is not served by treating children as adults. According to research released by the Centers for Disease Control in 2006, children transferred to adult court are more likely to re-offend than those committing similar offenses who remain in the juvenile justice system. California law does not require District Attorneys to prosecute 14 year-olds as adults, even in circumstances such as these, and we oppose them doing so. We are issuing this joint statement because we believe so strongly in principles of justice that protect all our young people and know that, even in the face of strong emotions, we should not abandon them. We refuse to let our sense of outrage blind us to the fact that the suspect is only 14 years old.

“Prosecuting the alleged perpetrator as an adult will not bring Lawrence King back nor will it make schools safer for LGBT youth. We must respond to this tragedy by strengthening our resolve to change the climate in schools, eliminate bigotry based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression and hold schools responsible for protecting students against discrimination and physical harm.”

The list of signatories include: American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California; American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties; American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California; Ally Action (CA); Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere (COLAGE; national); Community United Against Violence (San Francisco); Different Avenues (DC); Equality California; Gay Straight Alliance Network (CA); Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD); Human Rights Campaign; LAGAI – Queer Insurrection; Lambda Legal; LifeWorks Mentoring (Los Angeles); Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center; National Black Justice Coalition; National Center for Lesbian Rights; National Center for Transgender Equality; National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) National; Safe Schools Coalition; San Francisco LGBT Community Center; Sylvia Rivera Law Project (New York); TGI Justice Project (CA); Transgender Law Center; The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center (NY); TransYouth Family Allies, Inc.

The NGLTF Gets It

Jim Burroway

November 13th, 2007

According to The Hill, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has written Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and John Cornyn (R-TX), saying their investigation of Sen. Larry Craig shows evidence of a double standard:

The group argues the Ethics Committee has singled out Craig because he allegedly solicited gay sex but has ignored allegations of impropriety involving Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) because Vitter’s alleged behavior was heterosexual.

…There are only two ways to resolve this: drop the investigation into Sen. Craig or investigate the allegations surrounding Sen. Vitter.

It’s like I was saying